PAWTUCKET – Know those acceptance speeches an Oscar recipient gives upon being presented a solid gold statuette? The ones that begin with “I’d like to thank …”
Some speeches turn out sappy bordering on cringeworthy. Those falling in the melodramatic category tend to feature the winner crying to point where you can barely make out what’s being said. Bottom line? It’s about extolling credit where credit is due.
The Oscar may have a specific name engraved on the bottom portion, but rest assured, behind every success story is a support staff. The key role these behind-the-curtain individuals play cannot be underscored. Chances are they imparted some sort of wisdom designed to bridge the gap between possibility and reality and the message stuck, hence why they stand before the audience, receiving adulation all while tightly clinching the fruits of their toil.
In some ways the PawSox have turned into baseball’s version of the Academy Awards, sans Billy Crystal. One by one the team’s pitchers, present members and recent transplants alike, have specifically gone out of their way to effusively praise the job pitching coach Rich Sauveur has done with them.
From reclamation project Andrew Miller to AAA newcomer Kyle Weiland to seasoned veteran Kevin Millwood, their individual achievements are rooted in Sauveur’s counseling and guiding hand. Players are the only ones who can have good years? Such a school of thought also extends to the coaching staff, for their success is reciprocal.
Now in his fourth season in Pawtucket, word is starting to spread regarding the work Sauveur has done, specifically this season.
“I steer them in the right direction, that’s all I do,” said Sauveur, almost downplaying the Midas touch he seems to have lately as it relates to positioning his pitchers for potential call-ups. “I appreciate all the comments from Tito [Red Sox manager Terry Francona], but it’s not me who got them there. (The pitchers) are the ones who get themselves there.”
All things considered, Sauveur is no different than the minor-league pupils he’s shepherding. His goal is to implement his way of thinking with a big-league staff to call his own. If need be, Millwood is prepared to offer this ringing endorsement: “He’s really good. I think Rich can hold his own with any pitching coach.”
Sauveur’s list of clientele is extensive, almost star-studded. From Clay Buchholz to Michael Bowden to Felix Doubront to Daniel Bard, Sauveur has been entrusted with some of the finest arms in the organization. His dealings stretch beyond name recognition and team ERA, however. As someone who relied on the knuckleball during his six-year MLB career, Sauveur in 2008 helped pass his knowledge onto fellow butterfly specialist Charlie Zink. The tutelage paid off as Zink, owner of a career 4.34 ERA prior to the ’08 season, turned in an eye-popping performance (14-6 with a 2.84 ERA).
There are other ways to measure Sauveur’s effectiveness. This year alone he helped Weiland dust off his cut fastball, a pitch the righty had in his arsenal at Notre Dame. In Miller’s case, Sauveur opened the vault and took the warm-up routine that agreed with Buchholz and passed it on to the North Carolina product. The adjustment paid off as Miller strung together a series of impressive outings with the PawSox, which eventually landing him a spot in Boston’s rotation.
“Andrew wanting to get back to the big leagues is the reason why he’s there. Same with Buchholz,” Sauveur said. “Knock on wood it continues, but that’s what gives me satisfaction, to see Andrew win and win again [with the Red Sox].”
The latest example of Sauveur unearthing a hidden component was the 47-year-old encouraging Millwood, 36, to throw a changeup on a more regular basis.
“That was a pitch that I never used often because I was never able to throw it with much consistency,” Millwood said. “Rich has helped me out with it. It was more of a thought process than a mechanical thing. Instead of it being a show pitch, it’s now a weapon.”
As Sauveur will inform those who wish he would divulge his secrets, the responsibility of a pitching coach entails more than just having an eye for mechanical adjustments in a pitcher’s delivery.
“What I did with Buchholz was probably more mental than anything just to keep that kid sane,” said Sauveur looking back at the 2009 season when Buchholz was pitching well with Pawtucket but had to contend with roadblocks delaying his return to Boston. “When all the moves were being made involving (Brad) Penny and (John) Smoltz, I had to keep the kid sane because he thought he deserved to be up (in Boston). Maybe he did, but the timing just wasn’t right. I kept telling him that sooner or later he was going to be in the big leagues and I meant it. It was a matter of timing.
“I’ve got to learn every individual’s personality, and that in itself is difficult. I’ve got to know whether I can jump in on somebody. If they can’t handle me getting on them, I need to know. That’s something I need to learn as the season progresses,” he said.
Sauveur said that former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was a tremendous asset, calling the current Toronto skipper “one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever met in my life on a baseball field. He knew every in and every out of a man’s body.” With current Boston pitching coach Curt Young, there’s a comfort level that Sauveur feels works to his benefit. Sauveur and Young were teammates in Kansas City in ’92.
“The relationship I have with Curt is a great flow from him to me to the players,” Sauveur said. “It works really well.”
If experience is what shapes a person, than Sauveur stands on the threshold of making a jump similar to that of Buchholz and Miller. His time in Pawtucket – collectively the PawSox have posted an ERA north of four just once in his almost four complete seasons – has allowed him to grow and flourish as a pitching coach, which figures to pay off accordingly.